Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has a simple plan to 'protect' free speech — by using government censorship

  • Ron DeSantis is the 2024 GOP frontrunner (as long as Trump doesn’t run). 
  • The Florida governor’s star is rising because he’s taken over for Trump as the right’s most pugnacious culture warrior. 
  • And in the name of protecting conservatives “free speech,” he’s using censorship and the heavy hand of “Big Government.”
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is one of the brightest rising stars of the GOP. 

He’s a Trumpist culture warrior who doesn’t terrify the old-school conservative establishment. 

He’s got high approval ratings among Florida Republicans and independents after COVID cases dropped despite his refusal to order lengthy lockdowns. Some observers are saying he “won” the pandemic, politically. 

And a botched hit piece from “60 Minutes” was a gift, supplying him with all the “fake news” ammunition he’ll ever need to convince his supporters that any negative DeSantis stories originating in the national mainstream press should be ignored.

DeSantis has clout. Lots of it. And he’s using it to push several Republican-authored bills designed, he says, to protect free speech and rein in the censorious scourges of Big Tech, out-of-control rioters, and woke academics. 

But contrary to his contrived pose as a free speech defender, the governor and his party are in reality expanding governmental authority over political speech, free association, and the free market. 

To put it another way, the possible heir to Trump’s MAGA throne is using big government censorship on liberals and heavy regulation on businesses to supposedly “protect” conservatives’ freedoms. 

Using censorship and big government to defend free speech

When it comes to feeding red meat to the MAGA rabble, DeSantis serves the choicest cuts. 

The right fears that social media companies kicking users who violate their terms of service off their platforms means “Big Tech is the new Big Brother,” trying to systematically silence conservative viewpoints. 

DeSantis and Florida Republicans responded with the Transparency in Technology Act, a proposed law that would severely punish social media companies if they deplatform political candidates. 

That means Twitter would have to re-platform Donald Trump if he were to run for office again or face massive fines and government-initiated lawsuits. 

This conveniently ignores that conservative voices are some of the loudest and widely-shared on social media, and also flies in the face of the right’s “find another baker” ethos that private companies shouldn’t be forced to betray their own principles — or if you will, their terms of service.

After the riots and unrest marred the protest movement against racism and police brutality last summer, Republicans have warned their constituents that only sweeping new laws will prevent their hometown from becoming overrun by violent mobs. 

Now DeSantis is poised to sign an “anti-rioting” bill which would increase penalties for the already-illegal act of rioting. But it also broadly redefines “rioting,” criminalizes much legitimate civil disobedience, and provides legal immunities for people who run protestors over with their cars. 

Naturally, the bill grants the government and law enforcement a host of new sweeping powers that have nothing to do with rioting. 

For example, protesters blocking roadways are considered part of an “unlawful assembly.” This bill mandates that such demonstrators be held in custody until they can be seen by a judge. That could theoretically take days, or even weeks. 

And bills like these are being pushed by Republicans all over the country. 

But it’s the “academic diversity” bill which DeSantis is expected to sign that is the right’s culture war filet mignon. 

In the name of defending conservatives’ political speech on college campuses — and reining in the teaching of “critical race theory” — the proposed law would require Florida’s public colleges to survey their professors’ political views. 

The bill calls for the Board of Education to “create an objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid survey to be used by each institution which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented.”

It’s just a step away from an “equal time” law for campus free speech, adjudicated by a faceless bureaucracy. It also inherently puts pressure on colleges to hire and fire faculty based on their political views. 

That such a bill could be sold as a “pro-free speech” law is patently absurd, but it is in keeping with the right’s culture war posture — which includes deploying the tactics they claim to hate when used by their political enemies. 

DeSantis carries Trump’s culture war battle flag

None of these Republican/DeSantis-pushed bills deviates from Trump orthodoxy.

Big Tech is silencing conservatives, antifa and BLM are coming to destroy a suburb near you, and the “cultural Marxists” are out to destroy Western civilization through college Humanities courses, or so the MAGA laments go. 

DeSantis is playing a savvy political game by stoking these fears — which wouldn’t be possible if there weren’t a little truth to them. 

Social media companies have deplatformed a number of prominent conservatives, even if there’s little evidence of systemic anti-conservative bias. 

The violence and mayhem that often overshadowed many peaceful protests was counterproductive and provided disturbing imagery that the right will use for years to come. 

And a culture that’s intolerant to right-of-center ideas and dissenters absolutely exists on many of America’s college campuses. 

But DeSantis and Republicans are exploiting both matters of legitimate concern and factually-dubious narratives to pass laws that explicitly favor one political tribe over another, and suppress free speech in the name of free speech.

And unlike the maniacally unhinged Trump, DeSantis does it all with a smile and a competent demeanor befitting of a presidential contender. The governor is the early frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, but only if Trump declines to run again. 

Republican donors have said DeSantis is a “nicer version of Trump,” in that he is blunt, pugnacious with the media, and has a similar ability to agitate the libs. 

And the former president and Florida resident knows a rising star when he sees one, telling Fox Business that DeSantis is a “great guy” that he’d absolutely consider as a potential 2024 running mate.

The DeSantis model could be the next iteration of Trumpism: maintaining a fixation on culture war battles to keep the base frothing with anger, but actually demonstrating an interest in governing, and not turning off so many independents with conspiracy theories and vicious idiocy. 

With the near-constant agitation for more government control over expression, association, and private business’ policies, neither Democrats nor Republicans can claim to be the “freedom” party. 

But at least Democrats are honest that they want greater government control of just about everything.

It’s only Republicans like DeSantis who talk the free speech talk, while aggressively pushing for censorship. 

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